Day 171 – 06.11.2016
Turkmenabat (Turkmenistan) to Bukhara (Uzbekistan)

We left Turkmenabat early in the morning as we had to cross over the Turkmenistan border to Uzbekistan. We drove for about 50 km to reach the Farab border near Uzbekistan. After completing the formalities at the border, we crossed over into Uzbekistan and then drove towards Bukhara. We were warned to keep our fuel tank full as we would not get fuel in Uzbekistan. Rightly enough we passed by so many petrol bunks but all seemed dry.

We then arrived in Bukhara after crossing over from Turkmenistan border to Uzbekistan border. We almost arrived close to our hotel, but could not find our hotel. The road that our map was pointing was narrow and our car could not pass through. After going around 2-3 times trying to find Samani Bukhara Hotel, we asked some youngsters to help us with the directions. They agreed, however, we were not confident and did not want to risk that too at the cost of USD 20. We decided to call up the owner from our Indian number and he sent his son to pick us up. The hotel was run by a family and it was very homely. They arranged for a local guide with a car who agreed to take us around for USD 50. The Samani Bukhara Hotel family picture below.

The guide who himself arranged for tours etc was a nice young guy with good English gave us a little history about Bukhara. He mentioned Bukhara had a lot of architectural monuments, with a population of approximately 247,644. Humans have inhabited the region around Bukhara for at least five millennia, and the city has existed for half that time. The mother tongue of the majority of people of Bukhara was Persian. Bukhara is located on the Silk Road, and UNESCO has listed the historic centre of Bukhara as a World Heritage Site.

During the golden age of the Samanids, Bukhara became a major intellectual centre of the Islamic world, second only to Baghdad. The region of Bukhara was a part of the Persian Empire for a long time. The origin of many of its current inhabitants goes back to the period of Aryan immigration into the region.

The Samanid Empire seized Bukhara, the capital of Greater Khorasan, in 903 CE. Genghis Khan besieged Bukhara for fifteen days in 1220 CE.

Bukhara was the last capital of the Emirate of Bukhara and was besieged by the Red Army during the Russian Civil War.

We first visited the Samanid mausoleum which was located in a park just outside the historic urban centre of Bukhara, Uzbekistan. A beautiful monument, the mausoleum is considered to be one of the most highly esteemed works of Central Asian architecture, and was built between 892 and 943 CE as the resting-place of Ismail Samani – a powerful and influential amir of the Samanid dynasty, In addition to Ismail Samani, the mausoleum also houses the remains of his father Ahmed and his nephew Nasr, as well as the remains of other members of the Samanid dynasty.

We then visited Lyabi- Hauz which was the name of the area surrounding one of the few remaining hauz (ponds) that have survived in the city of Bukhara. Until the Soviet period, there were many such ponds, which were the city’s principal source of water, but as they were notorious for spreading disease and were mostly filled in during the 1920s and 1930s. The Lyabi-Hauz survived because it is the centrepiece of a magnificent architectural ensemble, created during the 16th and 17th centuries, which has not been significantly changed since. The Lyabi-Hauz ensemble, surrounding the pond on three sides, consists of the Kukeldash Madrasah, the largest in the city (on the north side of the pond), and two religious edifices built by Nadir Divan-Beghi: a khanaka ( a lodging-house for itinerant Sufis) built in 1620, and a madrasah built in 1622, stand on the west and east sides of the pond respectively.

The Nadir Divan-Begi Khanaka (1619-20), located opposite the Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah on the western side of Lyabi- Khauz, is reflected in its water. The Khanaka is a massive multi-cellular structure with a domed square hall in the centre, 11.2 meters on the side, with low niches along the sides and cornered cells. The Samani Bukhara Hotel that we were staying at was very close to this place.

The guide then drove us towards the Ark of Bukhara which was a massive fortress located in the city of Bukhara, initially built and occupied around the 5th century AD. In addition to being a military structure, the Ark encompassed what was essentially a town that, during much of the fortress’ history, was inhabited by the various royal courts that held sway over the region surrounding Bukhara. The Ark was used as a fortress until it fell to Russia in 1920. Currently, the Ark is a tourist attraction and houses museums covering its history. It resembles a modified rectangle, a little elongated from the west to the east. The perimeter of the external walls is 789.6 metres (2,591 ft), the area enclosed being 3.96 hectares (9.8 acres). The height of the walls varies from 16 to 20 metres.

When the soldiers of Genghis Khan took Bukhara, the inhabitants of the city found refuge in the Ark, but the conquerors smashed the defenders and ransacked the fortress.

We had tea at the Silk Road Tea-house before we proceeded ahead for other sites

After tea, we walked towards the Kalyan minaret, also known as the Tower of Death, as according to legend it is the site where criminals were executed by being thrown off the top for centuries.

We were informed that the minaret is now largely used for traditional and decorative purposes only. The main function of the minaret was to provide a vantage point from which the muezzin can call out people to prayer.

The Kalyan Mosque is one of the outstanding monuments of Bukhara, dating back to the fifteenth century. According to data from archaeological excavations, the original Karakhanid Djuma Mosque was destroyed by fire and dismantled, apparently at the time of the Mongolian invasion. Sometime later, it was rebuilt, but this reconstructed mosque did not remain long. A new mosque was built in the fifteenth century, at the time of the Sheybanids, according to written sources of the time.

Under Temur, the construction of monumental buildings was concentrated in Samarkand and Shahrisabz. However, under Ulugbek, the powerful clergy of Bukhara, who initiated the construction of a new Djuma Mosque on the site of the old one. Its dimensions are just slightly smaller than those of the Bibi-Khanum, Temur’s congregational mosque in Samarkand. However, Bukhara’s Djuma Mosque is not decorated as elaborately as the Bibi-Khanum.

The layout of the Djuma Mosque (named the Kalyan Mosque) is traditional: a rectangular courtyard with a tall and large maqsura room on the west side. Each of the courtyard axes has a large ayvan and the perimeter of the courtyard is built up with pillar-domed galleries (there are 208 pillars and 288 domes). The maqsura is square and has deeply recessed niches on the transverse axis and a mihrab on the main axis. Slabbing is typical for the early fifteenth century,-an octahedron of arched pendentives supports a vaulted inner dome and is capped by a spherical blue outer dome upon a drum. This structure still dominates the skyline of Bukhara.

The edifice keeps many architectural curiosities, for example, a hole in one of the domes. Through this hole, one can see the foundation of Kalyan Minaret. Then moving back step by step, one can count all belts of brickwork of the minaret to the rotunda.

Char Minor, a building tucked away in a lane northeast of the Lyabi Hauz complex. The structure was built by Khalif Niyaz-kul, a wealthy Bukharan of Turkmen origin in the 19th century under the rule of the Janid dynasty. The four towered structure is sometimes mistaken for a gate to the madrassa that once existed behind the structure, however, the Char-Minor is actually a complex of buildings with two functions, ritual and shelter.

Bukhara is well-known to the world not only for its mosques, Ark Fortress and the majestic Kalyan minaret but also for its trading domes stretching in procession from Lyabi-Khauz to the Miri-Arab madrasah. Long ago, in the XVI century under the Shaybanids dynasty, Bukhara became the capital giving rise to the unprecedented growth of the city, and since it was located on the Great Silk Road, the markets and trading stores were even more congested crossroads of public roads. Several centuries passed since that and four trading domes have only survived up to date.

We were then dropped back to our hotel for some rest before we again left for dinner. We were guided to a lovely traditional restaurant where we had some nice Mutton Pulav with some Kebabs. Also, we had some local wine.

Uzbek cuisine speciality was “pilaff” – a very solemn dish. It was considered as an everyday dish as well as a dish for solemn and great events like weddings, parties and holidays. it was prepared from Rice is along with certain spices, raisins, peas or quince which are added to give it extra flavour, almost similar to Indian Pulavs. Bread was considered holy by the Uzbek people.

Louis had Soup which was rich with vegetables and seasonings and contained lots of carrots, turnips, onions and greens, though the most popular soup was Uzbek Shurpa made out of meat and vegetable.

The other famous dish we tried was that of Shashlik, also known as kebabs, skewered chunks of mutton barbecued over charcoal and served with sliced raw onions and round unleavened bread.

One of the dishes that we had also tried on the way was Samsa (meat pies) similar to Indian Samosas and stuffed with meat and onion or pumpkin, potato, cabbage, mushrooms or nuts baked in a tandoor.

A solo Chinese traveller we met at the hotel in the picture above. We then retired for the night after a nice chat with the owners back at the hotel.

Day 172 – 07.11.2016
Bukhara to Samarkand

Today we drove about 280 km from Bukhara to Samarkand. After arriving into Samarkand we had to get the booking changed as we had arrived one day earlier. The people were very nice and they made all the necessary changes. Arranged for some nice hot tea, a nice guide for sightseeing the next day, while we had someone coming over for a nice massage before we headed for a nice dinner at a local restaurant.

After dinner, we walked back to the hotel.

Day 173 – 08.11.2016
Samarkand

After breakfast in the morning, our guide was already waiting for us, so we went along with her.

Our guide and driver for Samarkand city in the picture above.

She first took us to a place called Registan. She explained to us that Registan was the heart of the ancient city of Samarkand of the Timurid dynasty. The name Rēgistan means “Sandy place” or “desert” in Persian.

The Registan was a public square, where people gathered to hear royal proclamations, heralded by blasts on enormous copper pipes called dzharchis – and a place of public executions. It is framed by three madrasahs (Islamic schools) of distinctive Islamic architecture.

The three madrasahs of the Registan are the Ulugh Beg Madrasah (1417–1420), the Tilya-Kori Madrasah (1646–1660) and the Sher-Dor Madrasah (1619–1636). Madrasah is an Arabic term meaning school.

The Ulugh Beg Madrasah, built by Ulugh Beg during the Timurid Empire era of Timur—Tamerlane, has an imposing iwan with a lancet-arch pishtaq or portal facing the square. The corners are flanked by high minarets. The mosaic panel over the Iwan’s entrance arch is decorated by geometrical stylized ornaments. The square courtyard includes a mosque and lecture rooms and is fringed by the dormitory cells in which students lived. There are deep galleries along the axes. Originally the Ulugh Beg Madrasah was a two-storied building with four domed darskhonas (lecture rooms) at the corners.

The Ulugh Beg Madrasah was one of the best clergy universities of the Muslim Orient in the 15th Century CE. Abdul-Rahman Jami, the great Persian poet, scholar, mystic, scientist and philosopher studied at the madrasah. Ulugh Beg himself gave lectures there. During Ulugh Beg’s government, the madrasah was a centre of secular science.

Sher-Dor Madrasah (1619–1636)

In the 17th century the ruler of Samarkand, Yalang Tush Bakhodir, ordered the construction of the Sher-Dor and Tillya-Kori madrasah. The tiger mosaics on the face of each madrassa are interesting, in that they flout the ban in Islam of the depiction of living beings on religious buildings.

Ten years later the Tilya-Kori Madrasah was built. It was not only a residential college for students but also played the role of the grand masjid (mosque). It had a two-storied main facade and a vast courtyard fringed by dormitory cells, with four galleries along the axes. The mosque building is situated in the western section of the courtyard. The main hall of the mosque is abundantly gilded.

The mosque Bibi-Khanym Mosque in the 15th century was one of the largest and most magnificent mosques in the Islamic world. By the mid-20th century only a grandiose ruin of it still survived, but now major parts of the mosque have been restored.

The tomb of Timur c. 1910.

Geometric courtyard surrounding the tomb showing the Iwan, and dome.
Gur-e Amir is Persian for “Tomb of the King”. This architectural complex with its azure dome contains the tombs of Tamerlane, his sons Shah Rukh and Miran Shah and grandsons Ulugh Beg and Muhammad Sultan. Also honoured with a place in the tomb is Timur’s teacher Sayyid Baraka.

The earliest part of the complex was built at the end of the 14th century by the orders of Muhammad Sultan. Now only the foundations of the madrasah and khanaka, the entrance portal and a part of one of four minarets remains.

The construction of the mausoleum itself began in 1403 after the sudden death of Muhammad Sultan, Tamerlane’s heir apparent and his beloved grandson, for whom it was intended. Timur had built himself a smaller tomb in Shahrisabz near his Ak-Saray Palace. However, when Timur died in 1405 on the campaign on his military expedition to China, the passes to Shahrisabz were snowed in, so he was buried here instead. Ulugh Beg, another grandson of Tamerlane, completed the work. During his reign, the mausoleum became the family crypt of the Timurid Dynasty.

The restaurant where we had lunch in the afternoon at Samarkand with our guide. We tried the local soup known as Lagman which was a thick noodle soup with thinly sliced fried meat and vegetables, while the guide had a dish called Manty -large dumplings stuffed with finely chopped meat, seasoned with various spices and a large amount of onion, steamed in a special pot.

Group of Indian tourists from Mumbai, Gujarat, etc who we met in Samarkand

We then drove to the village Hartang in the Payaryk district, 25 km from Samarkand to see Imam Mohammed Al-Bukhari’s Tomb. He was considered as one of the most distinguished scholars of Hadith in Islamic history. His book Sahih al-Bukhari, in which the Prophet’s words, actions, or habits were collected, was one of the greatest sources of the prophetic influence in history.

His full name is Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Ismail Al-Bukhari and was born in 194 AH (8100 AD) in Bukhara, one of the present cities of Uzbekistan.

It is known that his great-grandfather was one of the first who converted to Islam. His father was one of the narrators of sacred traditions. When al-Bukhari was a child, his father died. Al-Bukhari remained in the care of his mother, who raised him. She was an educated woman who organized the training of boys different sciences.

Muhammad was a shrewd, smart, possessed an extraordinary memory for his age. At the age of 7, he learned the whole Qur’an. At the age of 10 years, he knew by heart a few thousand hadith. In the year 825 at the age of sixteen, he, together with his brother and widowed mother, made the pilgrimage to Mecca. From there he made a series of travels in order to increase his knowledge of hadith. He went through all the important centres of Islamic learning of his time, talked to scholars and exchanged information on hadith. It is said that he heard from over 1,000 men, and learned over 600,000 traditions.

After sixteen years absence, he returned to Bukhara, and there he drew up his al-Jami’ as-Sahih, a collection of 7,275 tested traditions, arranged in chapters so as to afford a basis for a complete system of jurisprudence without the use of the speculative law.

His book is highly regarded among Sunni Muslims, and considered the most authentic collection of hadith, even ahead of the Muwatta Imam Malik and Sahih Muslim of Bukhari’s student Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj. Most Sunni scholars consider it second only to the Quran in terms of authenticity. He also composed other books, including al-Adab al-Mufrad, which is a collection of hadiths on ethics and manners, as well as two books containing biographies of hadith narrators

The guide then dropped us back to our hotel, after which we went for dinner where we met these Indian gentlemen holidaying in Samarkand.

We had to leave for Tashkent the next day.

Day 174 – 09.11.2016
Samarkand to Tashkent

We drove from Samarkand to Tashkent after a lovely breakfast. We stopped on the way for some lunch before we arrived at Hotel Shodlik Palace in Tashkent. The receptionist was very nice and welcomed us very warmly. Also gave us directions to go around town.

After checking in, as usual, we left for sightseeing. On the way, we had some snacks and coffee before heading to the Independence Square.

Tashkent, known as the “Stone City” is also the capital and largest city of Uzbekistan. The officially registered population of the city in 2012 was about 2,309,300.

Due to its position in Central Asia, Tashkent came under the Sogdian and Turkic influence early in its history, before Islam in the 8th century AD. After its destruction by Genghis Khan in 1219, the city was rebuilt and profited from the Silk Road. In 1865 it was conquered by the Russian Empire, and in Soviet times witnessed major growth and demographic changes due to forced deportations from throughout the Soviet Union. Today, as the capital of an independent Uzbekistan, Tashkent retains a multi-ethnic population with ethnic Uzbeks as the majority.

Tashkent was settled by ancient people as an oasis on the Chirchik River, near the foothills of the West Tianshan Mountains.

We could see the tall Tashkent Television Tower which we understand is 375-metre-high and considered to be the 11th tallest tower in the world. Its construction had started in 1978 and it began operation 6 years later, on 15 January 1985.

Day 175 – 10.11.2016
Tashkent

Next day morning, we got our guide to take us around to see Tashkent. He came in his car and we were happy to be escorted around the beautiful city.

Ankhor Canal, a large irrigation canal, located in Tashkent, flows into the lake of the National Park A. Navoi. At the end of the XIX centuries, Ankhor was the boundary between old town and the new part of the city. In 1913 the first modern bridge Urda was built in Tashkent. Walking along this beautiful and quiet place, in the shadow of beautiful trees was very nice and relaxing.

Statue of Amir Timur – a monument to the outstanding commander and statesman of the XIV century, who managed to form a centralized united state composing of 27 countries in the vast territory from the Mediterranean Sea to India. The monument is represented as a bronze figure of Amir Timur with imperial regalia on a reared horse. The monument plinth is engraved with an Amir Timur’s famous motto in four languages “Power is in Justice”.

The history of the square in the centre of Tashkent named after Amir Timur, the commander and founder of a huge medieval empire, began as early as in the XIX century, when Tashkent was the center of the Turkestan Military Command, composing the Russian Empire. It was established by order of general M. Chernyaev in 1882. The square represented a small park in the center of the city, surrounded by buildings of women and men’s gymnasium, normal school and state bank.

This was the Central Asian Plov Centre of Tashkent’s famous for its Pulav’s, the national dish, with a colourful atmosphere. Seen from the outside, it looks like a campground with a half dozen sooty black cauldrons boiling on the open fires.. It is cooked outside by men using enormous stone cauldrons filled with oily rice, beef or lamb, horse-meat sausage, lamb fat, with boiled eggs to garnish. Though it won’t suit every stomach, but at only around $3 a plate, pilaf was cheap and popular.

The center serves only pilaf, tea and salads. No beer, no wine and we were informed that the best time to visit this place was before 12, after which it gets absolutely packed and you have to wait for your turn to be seated.

Natural disasters are unavoidable and the monument of courage gives out a message that no matter what happens, the people of Uzbekistan must be courageous enough to move on. It was built on the 10th anniversary of devastating earthquake which shook the city. The earthquake which happened in 1966 was of 9 points in the Richter scale and was a terrible disaster in which many people lost their lives. The zone in which it affected was around 10 square kilometers and many people became homeless too. After the destruction happened, all of the countries in the Soviet union got together and rebuilt it from the ground up. Builders from all over the country united to build the city which was done in a few years.

The Alisher Navoi National Park is one of Uzbekistan’s largest urban parks. It was founded by the members of the Komsomol organisation from Tashkent in 1932. The park, which in the Soviet period was named Komsomolsky, and was constructed on the site of the quarry of an old brick factory by volunteers. Currently, it bears the name of great medieval enlightener Alisher Navoi. The area of the park’s land is 65 ha, while its lake and network of canals make up a total of 9 ha.

In the centre of the park is the world’s largest monument of Alisher Navoi, a great 15th-century Uzbek poet, which is installed on a mound under a light domed rotunda.

Arch of Independence

The arch of the main entrance faces the Beshagach Square. The park’s territory is very green, with the crowns of century-old trees forming a cobweb of natural shady alleys and ornamental shrubs and bright flower beds creating special romantic atmosphere.

Independence Square is a central square in Tashkent. After the proclamation of Uzbekistan’s independence in September 1991, “Lenin Square” was renamed in 1992 as “Mustaqillik Maydoni”, which translates to “Independence Square” in English. The monument to Lenin was dismantled, and in its place the Monument of Independence of Uzbekistan, in the form of the globe, was erected.

We also visited the Amir Timur Museum opened in 1996, which was dedicated to the Mongol warlord Amir Timur (Tamerlane).

Since Uzbekistan became independent in 1991, great attention was paid to revive the nation’s spiritual and cultural heritage, including historical persons who had an important role in world civilization. Among those was Amir Temur, the warlord, politician and reformer, patron of science, education, trade, culture and craft. Having established a great centralized state, he strengthened its power and greatness, and also united many nations and people. Amir Temur’s rule promoted science, education, culture, architecture, the fine arts, music and poetry, laying the foundations of the Timurid Renaissance.

The museum’s blue cupola resembles that of the Gur-i Amir mausoleum in Samarkand. Though the museum was built according to the traditions of medieval architecture, it satisfies all modern requirements.

Today there are more than 5000 artifacts in the museum fund. Over 2000 objects are displayed in museum exhibition halls.

Kukeldash Madrasah was built around 1570 by the Shaybanid Dynasty of rulers.
The madrasah is built of yellow brick, and has a traditional square shape with a big portal and an inner yard. The walls around the inner yard contain cells inhabited by the students. The portal is 20 metres (66 ft) high and contains two towers at its sides.

In 1830-1831 the first floor of the madrasah was demolished, and the bricks were used to build the nearby Beklarbegi Madrasah. It was later restored.. The madrasah was damaged by the earthquake in 1868 and subsequently reconstructed in 1902-1903. It was reconstructed again in the 1950s and became one of only several religious buildings which survived the 1966 Tashkent earthquake.

The madrasah was converted into a caravanserai in the 18th century, then it served as a fortress. In the 20th century it was a museum, first of atheism, and later of folk music. In the 1990s, the building was made a madrasah again.

After lunch we visited the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral built by the Russian Orthodox in 1902-1905 in the Botkin Cemetery territory.

The Church was visited by 20 – 30 parishioners on weekdays and over 200 believers on holy days. In the post-revolutionary period the Church played an important role in the life of the Orthodox confession of Uzbekistan. A part of churchmen began working for the Soviet system, the others were against it. Thus in the 1920-s the Temple was seized by regenerates – disciples of a new Christian movement, formed after the February Revolution of 1917. The Orthodox parishioners had to have divine services near a chapel built in honor of Our Lady “Everybody mourning in joy”. After the War the temple was returned to Orthodox Church.

For the period of its existence the Church survived the earthquake of 1966 and fire, which split the church building crosswise. However the building did not collapse and later was restored. The church interior is decorated with fresco depicting community of Saints, angels and archangels as well as with many icons in gold plated frames.

We visited Chorsu Bazaar a traditional bazaar located in the center of the old town of Tashkent, Under its blue-colored domed building and the adjacent areas we found, all daily necessities being sold.

We then visited the Telyashayakh Mosque (Khast Imam Mosque), which contains the Uthman Qur’an, considered to be the oldest extant Qur’an in the world. Dating from 655 and stained with the blood of murdered caliph, Uthman, was brought by Timur to Samarkand, seized by the Russians as a war trophy and taken to Saint Petersburg, was returned to Uzbekistan in 1924.

The Minor mosque is one of new sights of Tashkent located in the new part of the city, not far from the Hotel International. It was opened on 1 October 2014, on the eve of the Eid holiday, and has become one of the favorite places of city residents for evening strolls. Minor mosque is located on the embankment of the Ankhor canal and is surrounded by a landscaped area. The old mosques were made out of bricks and this mosque had white marble finishing. It shines under the clear sky and its turquoise dome seems to be vanishing in the sky. Its capacity is more than 2400 people. Minor mosque is divided to the open front part with terraces, and big round hall with gold plated mihrab adorned with writings from Koran.

Finally we had to see the Metro of Tashkent so our guide got us to purchase tickets which cost 1,200 Som, regardless of destination. We then got on to the train and had a ride back to our hotel.

While it was a convenient and cheap metro system, it was a daunting experience. The bags are usually checked twice before entering the metro station, and there are plenty of police around. But we observed that they were not there to bother us, but just to make sure no one misbehaves and travellers were safe.

We got off at the station close to our hotel and called it a day. Next day, we were leaving from Uzbekistan to reach Kazakhstan.